Education Matters: Flourishing? Floundering? Or figuring it all out?

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"And what do you want to be when you grow up?"

It's such an innocent question — and one I'm willing to bet that every person has asked at least once to a child, somewhere. We start to ask the question pretty young, and we continue to query the kids as they go through their school years.

Around junior spring, and definitely by high school spring, it becomes more direct. "And what are you doing after graduation? Where are you going? What are you going to study?"

It's asked with genuine curiosity, sincere interest in what these fascinating young people are going to do next. In so many cases, we've literally known them since they were born. We've seen them at kindergarten soccer, their first band concerts, their middle school graduation ceremonies, their senior nights and their award banquets.

It's a fascinating thought to ponder: where will these special young people go and do next?

In the past two years, we've watched some kids go off to college and love it there. They feel challenged by their classes, and they are finding clubs and internships that encourage their learning. They are pursuing various majors and minors, perhaps changing a bit from their original intent.

Others have gone, and come back home, for various reasons — all of them good. One just felt she didn't fit in at her school choice and decided to save money by going to a community college for the first two years. Another thought the academic side was great, but it was just too big.

Some took a gap year, an intentional year to earn some additional money, or to travel, or a combination of both. One spent some time in New Zealand as an au paire. Another took the chance to explore the American West, working at a ski resort. Still another is over in Hawaii for a bit.

Some went off to college for a semester and then decided they would prefer to work in the trades. They have returned home and are apprenticing, earning money while they learn instead of paying.

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And a few are working a job for some money, while exploring a passion for something else as well. Some have gone off to the military.

Once an American child hits kindergarten, his next 13 years are pretty rigidly planned out for him. He might make specific class choices, but that's about it. Then, suddenly, after graduation, he has to make a lot of decisions.

And we adults eagerly ask them all, "Where are you going? What are you going to do? What are you going to be when you grow up?"

I have started to ask myself if I should be asking this of these about-to-graduate kids... if this question is a helpful one? After all, it's a small percentage of people who know exactly what they are "going to do with their lives" at age 18.

I grew up with the expectation that I would be going to college. Period. For a long time, I had this same thought process for my own children. But as we get ever closer to that decision for each child, I find that I am modifying that a bit. I now really just want to make sure that they are prepared to go to college — that their options are wide open as they enter the first step of adulthood.

What I really want is for my child to flourish. And I've come to realize that this might involve a bit of floundering — it's natural, after all, to make a few mistakes in life.

Because there is no magic date that we suddenly know everything.

Every one of us is just figuring it all out.

Jill Stahl Tyler is parent to four kids this year, a college sophomore, a high school senior and sophomore, and an eighth grader. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment. Contact her at jill@globalcow.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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